Mahan, Alfred Thayer

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Mahan, Alfred Thayer

Alfred Thayer Mahan (məhăn´), 1840–1914, U.S. naval officer and historian, b. West Point, N.Y. A Union naval officer in the Civil War, he later lectured on naval history and strategy at the Naval War College, Newport, R.I., of which he was president (1886–89, 1892–93). Out of his lectures grew his two major works on the historical significance of sea power—The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783 (1890) and The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793–1812 (2 vol., 1892). In these he argued that naval power was the key to success in international politics; the nation that controlled the seas held the decisive factor in modern warfare. Mahan's work appeared at a time when the nations of Europe and Japan were engaged in a fiercely competitive arms race. His books were quickly translated into several languages and were widely read by political leaders, especially in Germany, where they were used as a justification for a naval buildup. In the United States, Theodore Roosevelt and other proponents of a big navy and overseas expansion were much influenced by Mahan's writings. Among his many works are biographies of David Farragut and Horatio Nelson and the autobiographical From Sail to Steam (1907, repr. 1968).

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